One reason may be that the government sector remains as corrupt and inefficient as ever, Sen says. Only the private sector gets things done, Varma says.
The U.S. and India, the world's most powerful and largest democracies respectively, appear a natural fit. Still, self-interest rules, Varma says with a sigh.
"America is not going to do anything for India. America wants to put out fires worldwide, but there's no fire in India," he says. "America acts in its self-interest, and right now that's to arm Pakistan."
A crucial issue in this volatile region remains Kashmir, the Indian-controlled region also claimed by Pakistan. Some Indian Muslims hope Obama can intervene.
"He's head of the most powerful country in the world; he can do anything, including resolving problems in India-Pakistan relations, and the Kashmir issue," says Muhammad Alam, 30, a bookstore employee in New Delhi's Nizamuddin district.
Of equal importance, and more immediate relevance, is the need for improvements in basic living standards, Alam says. His neighborhood, a poor ghetto 500 yards from a famous tomb Obama will visit Sunday, lacks medical, educational and sanitation facilities, he says.
"There is a complete lack of development here, possibly because it is a Muslim area," Alam says. "Many dignitaries have come here, but nothing is done."
Sitaram Yechury, a member of India's Parliament and representing the Communist Party of India, worries about India's legions of poor farmers, if, as Obama advocates, U.S. agricultural products are granted more access, and also about a loss of independence in foreign policy.
"India is being drawn into a strategic framework with the USA" that "will draw India into an area of conflict with China rather than cooperation," he predicts.
The huge consumer markets of both India and China are seen as the savior of struggling Western economies, but "the USA should play a more reasonable role in settling conflicts here, rather than taking a position to establish its hegemony," Yechury says.